Top five power-line adapters: When Wi-Fi fails you

CNET editor Dong Ngo picks his top power-line adapters. These offer great performance for those who need to quickly expand their network, particularly to the spots where Wi-Fi signals can't reach.

In home networking, the fastest way -- in terms of data speed -- to connect devices together is via network cables. However, running cables properly, which involves making networking ports and connector heads , is no easy task. This is part of the reason the wireless network (Wi-Fi) has become so popular. But chances are, there's a spot in your home that the Wi-Fi signal can't reach, because of distance or thick walls. This is when a power-line connection can be a useful alternative.

Power-line adapters basically turn the electrical wiring of a home into network cables for a computer network. You need at least two power-line adapters to form the first power-line connection. The first adapter is connected to the router and the second to the Ethernet-ready device at the far end. There are some routers on the market, such as the D-Link DHP-1320, that have built-in support for power-line connectivity, meaning you can skip the first adapter. After the first connection, you just need one more adapter to add another Ethernet-ready device to the home network.

Apart from the ability to bridge the network through thick walls, power-line connections are also a lot more stable than Wi-Fi signal and have as low latency and a regular Ethernet wired connections.

Currently there are two main standards for power-line networking, HomePlug AV and Powerline AV 500. They offer speed caps of 200Mbps and 500Mbps, respectively. The following is the list of top five power-line adapters on the market. This list is sorted by the review date, starting with the most recently reviewed. It will be updated as more devices are reviewed.


Dong Ngo/CNET

Trendnet Powerline 500 AV Nano adapter
The Trendnet Powerline 500 AV Nano adapter comes in a single unit (model TPL-406E) or a kit of two (model TPL-406E2K) and is one of the smallest power-line adapters on the market. The adapter supports the Powerline AV 500 standard but comes with a 10/100 Ethernet port. In my testing, it offered the sustained speed of some 90Mbps, which is the same speed you get from a regular Ethernet connection. Read the full review of the Trendnet Powerline 500 AV Nano adapter.


Dong Ngo/CNET

ZyXel PLA4205 500Mbps Powerline Gigabit Ethernet adapter
The ZyXel PLA4205 supports Gigabit Ethernet and therefore is capable of offering the full potential of the Powerline AV 500 standard, which is up to 500Mbps. In my testing, it was indeed the fastest power-line adapter to date with a sustained real-world speed of more than 200Mbps. That's about twice the speed of a regular Ethernet connection. Read the full review of the ZyXel PLA4205.


Dong Ngo/CNET

Actiontec 500Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit
This kit (model PWR511K01) comes with two identical power-line adapters (model PWR500). Similar to the Trendnet above, the Actiontec PWR500 adapter is also very compact; in fact, it's the most compact on the market. It doesn't support Gigabit Ethernet and offered a sustained speed of about 90Mbps in my testing. To make up for this, it's very affordable, costing just around $50 per kit, about the same price as the Trendnet. Read the full review of the Actiontec 500Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit.


Josh Miller/CNET

D-Link DHP-501AV PowerLine AV 500 Adapter Starter Kit
The D-Link DHP-501AV power-line adapter kit is one of the first on the market that supports the Powerline AV 500 standard and Gigabit Ethernet. The kit offered very fast performance in my testing and also looks great. It's best used with the D-Link DHP-540 switch below. Read the full review of the D-Link DHP-501AV PowerLine AV 500 Adapter Starter Kit.


Josh Miller/CNET

D-Link DHP-540 PowerLine AV 500 4-Port Gigabit Switch
The D-Link DHP-540 PowerLine AV 500 4-Port Gigabit Switch is unique. It's the first switch on the market that supports the Powerline AV 500 standard. This means that you can use it just like any other switch: to add three more network ports to the existing network. It's also the first power-line adapter that makes the home power-line-ready. This means you just need another power-line adapter at the far corner to add another device to the home network.

On the other hand, if you already have an existing power-line adapter connected to the router, you can use the D-Link DHP-540 at the far end to add four more devices to the home network, using a single power-line connection between the adapter and the switch. Read the full review of the D-Link DHP-540 PowerLine AV 500 4-Port Gigabit Switch.


A final note on power-line adapters: They need to be connected directly to the wall socket, and not via a surge protector or a power strip, to work well. Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these devices head-to-head.

 

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